the presence of non-experts, on the presence of amateurs. Crowdsourcing, a distributedproblem-solving model, is not, however, open-source practice. Problems solved andproducts designed by the crowd become the property of companies, who turn largeproﬁts off from this crowd labor. And the crowd knows this going in. And the Frankfurtboys roll in their graves.This article is an introduction to crowdsourcing – what it is, how it works, and itspotential. As an emerging, successful, alternative business model, I hope to turn themodel toward non-proﬁt applications for health and social and environmental justice.Toward this end, I argue that crowdsourcing is substantially different from open-sourceproduction – and superior in many ways. I also argue that crowdsourcing is a legitimate,complex problem-solving model, more than merely a new format for holding contestsand awarding prizes. In critiquing the theories which seem to predict crowdsourcing, Ihope to establish an agenda for research on crowdsourcing so that some day we willhave developed a model that can have profound inﬂuence in the way we solve our world’smost pressing social and environmental problems.
Coined by Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson in the June 2006 issue of
magazine(Howe, 2006f), the term
describes a new web-based business model thatharnesses the creative solutions of a distributed network of individuals through whatamounts to an open call for proposals. Howe offers the following deﬁnition:
Simply deﬁned, crowdsourcing represents the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undeﬁned (and generally large) network of peoplein the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the useof the open call format and the large network of potential laborers. (2006a: 5)
Howe further clariﬁes that ‘it’s only crowdsourcing once a company takes that design,fabricates [it] in mass quantity and sell[s] it’ (2006b: 1). In other words, a company postsa problem online, a vast number of individuals offer solutions to the problem, the winningideas are awarded some form of a bounty, and the company mass produces the idea forits own gain. To understand the workings of crowdsourcing, it is best to examine someof the most successful and proﬁtable cases in a variety of industries.
Threadless.com is a web-based t-shirt company that crowdsources the design process fortheir shirts through an ongoing online competition. The company formed when JakeNickell and Jacob DeHart met through an online design forum, both entered into a t-shirtdesign competition, and Nickell won. They formed skinnyCorp and its ﬂagship property,Threadless, in late 2000 when Nickell was only 20 and DeHart only 19 years old (Nickelland DeHart, n.d.). Based in Chicago, skinnyCorp today is the umbrella company for OMGClothing, Extra Tasty, Naked and Angry, Yay Hooray, and other message boards andbusinesses in the company’s mission: ‘skinnyCorp creates communities’ (Our Ideas, n.d.;skinnyCorp, n.d.). None of skinnyCorp’s other properties are as successful as Threadless,
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